Since the dawn of celluloid people have wondered, are films art? As movies became more sophisticated over time this question was able to be answered with an emphatic yes. Films taught us about ourselves, about each other, about being human! This list considers a similar questions however. If films are art which one's could make it into a gallery? Which are absolutely dreamy slices of cinematic eye candy could roll with a Picasso or a Monet. Not only be art in terms of good storytelling but have an aesthetic level that's just down right stylish. Allow me, a humble illustrator to weigh in with what in my opinion are 10 of the best looking films! Onward!
1. Moulin Rouge
There's a lot to like about Moulin Rouge. It's brave, it's a musical, it's romantic and it's got Kyle Minogue singing a Sound of Music song while dressed as a hallucinogenic fairy. Why wouldn't you like it? But the film looks incredible, a cursory glance through the special features on the DVD shows you the attention to detail Catherine Martin (production designer) used in the film. Every dancer has a theme, every room has a concept and every outfit is absolute perfection. This Parisian riot still stands up and does a sexy can-can at the same time.
Favourite Shot/scene- The final rendition of Come what May in all it's Bollywood glory, it's almost too much but it's beautiful!
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
This film is s-l-o-w but man is it gorgeous. One of the films on this list that almost looks like it could be a shot for shot oil painting. Full of atmosphere, this tale of obsession and ego goes beyond what a normal film does to make itself look good. It innovates, cinematographer Roger Deakins wanted the film to have the look of old photographs so colour aberration around the edge where added to help imitate the look of old photographs. A bleach bypass was also added to some of the negatives to enhance dark colours. It wonderful makes the American 'west' look not all heroic and sweeping landscapes but sparse and worryingly lonesome. Want to be a cowboy? Not in this film you don't! (It also has a mighty good soundtrack which you MUST listen too!)
Favourite shot/scene- It's the one everyone talks about but the train robbery at the start is on another level. The lighting is remarkable!
Well, we had to have a Del Toro pick here! He is the OG of modern creature designs and makes prosthetics like they were just invented. He is King of the beautiful monster, his films mixing horrific and gorgeous aesthetics so often that you can't tell which one is which anymore. To be honest I struggled to pick between this film and Hellboy 2 (that Angel of Death sequence gives me chills like a cold shower in winter!) but the dark fairy tale quality of this one just makes me go for Pans Labyrinth (In hindsight I'll probably feel so guilty about not picking it I'll have to write another list). Don't know the story? A little girl is given a magical quest by a faun (the titular Pan) and has to complete dangerous tasks for her to become a princess so far so storybook. The twist is she's living in a brutal post-war Spain and reality is just as terrifying as any life-threatening task, not your bedtime story! It's use of animatronics and physical effects are extraordinary impressive and a reminder to film makers that sometimes the old ways can work the best.
Favourite shot/scene- It's disgusting but marvellous. The pale man sequence, the room he's in, the reveal of his eyes!
It would be wrong to do this list and not pick a Zhang Yimou film to go in there. His films make Chinese history look like epic lucid dreams (better than the one where you turned up to work in your slippers!). Hero is particularly stunning, to tell you the plot might give too much away but its about storytelling and what happens if you don't know what to believe. It's steeped in style (yes you can call your band that) with elegant fight sequences and palettes similar to what an experienced designer might use let alone a director.
Favourite shot/scene- The falling leaves fight. All autumn and fury (another free band name).
5. Mad Max Fury Road
I have to say, I'm not a fan of any other Mad Max films and though I like of a lot of George Miller's work I rolled my eyes when I heard this was coming back. How wrong I was to roll these brown bad boys. Mad Max is an amazing cross dessert series of races and it looks glorious. From the design of Furiousa's make up and prostetic arm to the many (many!) vehicles (one has a man playing a guitar that shoots fire, so you know, not the average musician) it's quite the spectacle. Wide open spaces and bananas action. It's glorious.
Favourite shot/scene The Sandstorm. Explosions in the air! Madness!
6. The Life Of Pi
I love the story of The Life of Pi (btw, he really survived with Richard Parker and the end is just to questions the nature of faith DON'T @ ME!) and it was beautifully executed by Ang Lee. Lee is no stranger to making things look beautiful (see Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for his exquisite CV). Though Life Of Pi has a visually brilliant central image of a Tiger and boy trapped in an empty sea, Lee still works hard to keep it visually interesting and new. His style never becomes complacent and it's a stunning piece of work that deserves to be remembered.
Favourite shot/scene- The perfectly still mirrored sea. Chills!
7.Fantastic Mr Fox
Wes Anderson, lets face it, is all about that style. Yes his films are funny, well cast and engrossing but when generations from now go into museums to see what we all thought was the peak of hip around the millennium no doubt they'll go into a dark room and see a Wes Anderson shot. King of composition and no stranger to breaking the mold, all his films are beautiful. I've picked Fantastic Mr Fox as it's a personal favourite and it was a nice shot in the arm for more traditional and equally beautiful forms of traditional animation. Also as a fellow Anderson I think we are secretly cousins.
Favourite shot/scene- The Wolf, gloriously bizarre.
In my early 20's I had a full on visual crush on the whole of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's back catalogue. We would hold hands, go to dinner together and it would never stand me up. Yeah okay, some times the dates weren't as thrilling as other (it didn't bring me flowers when he made Alien Resurrection) but every time it made me think about quitting 'us' it would hook me back in with Micmacs (a back rub) or A Very Long Engagement (a weekend away). The first rush of feelings though came with Amélie, a film about a young french girl who wants help people and the absolute definition of sweet. It's wonderful, I'm sure you'll fall in love too and get that same warm feeling I did when you see at Paris in all its idealised glory and visual flourishes. Jeunet hasn't directed any other films since 2013 so I'm hoping his next one will chase me through the airport and profess how much it missed me. Yes I know I'm ridiculous.
Favourite shot/scene- Anything in the cafe.
9. The Fall
The most underrated film on this list by far, the fact that you've probably not heard of this movie is a travesty of the highest level. First of all, you have my permission to open a new tab and go and buy it from Amazon. It'll be cheap and EVERYONE I have shown it to thinks it's marvellous. Done? Okay, let's crack on. The Fall is visual perfection from start to finish Tarsem is an incredible director that used a small budget and real-life locations in the most incredible way. The costumes are something from a more beautiful world than ours and the whole thing makes me want to walk the earth until I meet Tarsem Singh, thank him for the film and then beg him to let me work with him. Roger Ebert gave it 4/4 and said "You might want to see [it] for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it." If that doesn't make you want to see it I don't know what will.
Favourite shot/scene- EVERY SINGLE THING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
10. Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse
Let's end on something recent and excellent. Into the Spider-verse is one of my favourite films in recent times and it looks unbelievably good. As animation goes, you may think we would of exhausted all styles by now. But here Spider-man swings in and shows us something new. The storyline of multiple Spider based heroes falling through marvel version of the hadron collider could make for a messy film but the style clicks perfectly. It's unbelievable well tuned, kinetic action, harmonies of neon colour and superb character design elevate what is a great story-line into an utterly perfect film. Go and enjoy it.
Favourite shot/scene- Falling into the city, why has no superhero film thought of this??
If you liked this list you may want to have a look at my other blog on 'The Top 10 underrated movie posters.' Find it here...